Tagged: scholarships

Making Sense Of Your Financial Aid Award Letters

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Financial aid award letters, overflowing with crucial financial information you’ll receive from the schools that have accepted you, are the subject of today’s post. The letters will be full of juicy details, allowing you to compare the true cost of attending the various colleges that you’re considering for your undergraduate adventures.  OK, perhaps I erred in describing the letters as being full of “juicy details”. I admit that it may well be more accurate to describe the financial aid award letters as being full of “confusing specifics”, “befuddling facts”, or “mystifying particulars.” Why is it all so complicated? How can you make sense of your financial aid award letters?



Well, I want to share with you a gem of a YouTube video from U.S. News & World Report. I recommend that you watch the entire clip (click here to access it), but if you don’t have 15 minutes to spare at the moment, allow me to give you a quick rundown of the key points:

  • The basic components of a financial aid award letter are: 1) Grants and scholarships (the free money!) – know where they’re from and why they were awarded. 2) Work Study – this represents the most that a student can earn working on campus in a year. 3) Loans – look to see if they’re for the student or for the parents, and also be sure to understand their terms.
  • There are a number of important phrases that are commonly used in an award letter. Two examples are: 1) Cost of attendance – this is NOT the bill, but rather is an estimate of what the college thinks it will cost the student to attend for a given enrollment period. 2) Family contribution – this is also NOT a bill, but is how much parents could look to contribute to the overall cost.
  • Another thing that may be confusing is that some colleges package parent financing into the financial aid award – as a result, it may at first glance appear that the entire cost of attending is covered. However, upon closer inspection it may well be the case that it’s actually parent financing (sometimes called a Federal Direct Plus Loan).
  • Work study and loans help you to finance your undergraduate education, but they don’t change what you’re going to pay – they only have an impact on when you’re going to pay what you owe.
  • If you have more than one award letter and are trying to compare them, proceed with caution, as they may look very different from each other, making a side-by-side comparison challenging (i.e. apples to oranges). Here’s a useful tool for comparing aid awards at up to four different schools – click here!
  • You typically receive single year awards in these letters – for a family to predict what they’ll need to borrow over all four (or more) years, they should know what the criteria are for the renewal of scholarships and grants (if applicable).  Also, be sure to read the fine print for needs-based grants.
  • As ever, be sure to focus on the net price!

Sorting out the finances for college can seem confusing and overwhelming, but if you stay calm and arm yourself with the information you need to make the right monetary decisions given your personal situation, you’ll get through the process!

The Scholar Snapp Solution

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There has been so much going on in the world of college admissions lately (the College ScorecardFAFSA changes, the test-optional movement, the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success, and new college ranking systems, to name but a few examples) that it’s easy for some news to quietly pass by largely unnoticed. One example of such news is a recent collaboration between The Common Application and Scholar Snapp, which was developed by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation back in 2008. The purpose of the Scholar Snapp solution is, in a nutshell, to increase access to college scholarship funds. How is this accomplished? Well, as is stated on their website, “The Scholar Snapp solution will help you complete applications faster by pre-populating basic information requested in all scholarship applications and will help you find money for college by matching your data with the qualifications of various scholarship providers.” In other words, the Scholar Snapp solution provides users with the tools and resources needed to both find scholarships and make it easier to apply for them – nice!



Scholar Snapp’s collaboration with The Common App is currently a pilot program, one through which The Common App shows evidence of its support of and commitment to both access and opportunity.  As the CEO of The Common Application has said, “The Common Application is deeply committed to increasing college access and to us that means not only connecting our colleges and universities with the talented students across the country, but also finding ways to help students and families to finance education.” I have high hopes that this pilot program will prove to be a success!

And how, exactly, does it work? You see, when a Common App user opts-in to Scholar Snapp, they then receive information directly from scholarship providers and, should they decide to then apply for those scholarships, it’s an expedited process using their Scholar Snapp file. Remember, one of the cool things about Scholar Snapp is that “once a student enters data for the first time, a scholarship application will allow a student to download their basic data and then upload it again to another application” – click here to learn more about this “Common App for scholarships”!

A few more things to keep in mind:

  • Students who opt-in to Scholar Snapp will not receive information about college-specific scholarships, so they should still plan to delve into college websites to search for college-specific funding opportunities.
  • The Common App is a great place to create a Scholar Snapp file, but know that it’s also possible to create a file via the Scholar Snapp website or using any scholarship application on which there is a Scholar Snapp logo.
  • As is the case with using Admitster’s online college admissions tools (simply take 30 seconds to register an account with us), using the Scholar Snapp solution is absolutely free!

To sum up (and surely you’ve seen this coming), using Scholar Snapp is a snap! It’s a great way to both save time and find scholarship money – funding opportunities await!